He’d very nearly thrown it away along the rest of the junk in his letterbox. An offer to paint his house exterior for half price? Not much use when you lived in a third floor flatlet in a shared apartment block. A cruise brochure from a travel company he and Dorothy had used six years ago, with a special deal for two people sharing? Not when one of them was in the cold ground. Ah, that cruise round the Greek islands and those gourmet meals on board the luxury cruise ship. To think that in those days he was worried about putting on weight. He’d managed a smile. What wouldn’t he have given to see Paxos again, the white houses with the brightly coloured doors gleaming in the sun by the deep blue green sea, and the little taverna they used to go to. What was it called? A reminder from British Gas screaming at him that if the bill wasn’t settled within ten days, his supply would be cut off? He chucked it aside with a snort of derision. Let them try. He’d take it down to that girl with a nice smile in the Citizens Advice Bureau, she’d soon - ah, no. The office had recently been closed in the latest round of government cuts. Damn.
And a long white envelope headed N S & I? Probably some footling statistics form to fill in, or yet another charity demand. That too was about to go in the big black bin by the back door, when he saw the logo “Premium Bonds” across the bottom. Years ago he’d had some, but never won a penny. Worth opening the envelope? He’d screwed his face up. Well, suppose so. Couldn’t be as bad as that final letter from Lloyds telling him he’d lost all his savings.
With an ear on the whistling kettle and an eye on the kitchen clock, he’d absently slid the flap open with his thumb. At least the letter inside had addressed him by name, on a single sheet of paper…
It had been cold and dismal when he went into town that morning to go to the Social Security office, and his old raincoat wasn’t giving him much warmth these days. The DWP office wasn’t very warm either, and neither was his reception from the sour faced woman with the pointed red nose whom he always seemed to get lumbered with. “I’ve told you before, Mr Talbot-Wynstanley,” she said impatiently, tapping her pen on the counter. “Your qualifications can act as a positive deterrent to you getting employment. What employer wants to hire an ex – barrister with a First in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, as a security guard in a frozen food factory at £7.36 an hour? Now I’ve got a job offering fruit picking in Evesham, but frankly if you don’t speak Polish…”
An hour and a quarter later he was poking round the back of Waitrose looking to see if any of the sell-by date food that supermarkets throw out - an unbelievable 50,000 tonnes of it every year, by all accounts - had escaped the wagons. But he was too late, as a chortling ancient ragamuffin called Eric told him, and he could only scoop up some rotting fruit and a few turnips that had fallen off one of their lorries.
It was early autumn, but the rain was turning to hail as he turned up his coat collar to walk the mile and a half back to his digs. Why do I go on, he thought dully, as he did a hundred times a day. I’m nearly sixty, I’m going bald, I’ve got £4.30 to last me till pension day on Friday. My wife is dead and my son doesn’t speak to me. What is it about the human psyche that keeps a useless human being stumbling on? He put his hand to his side. Is that a stitch? It’s too low for my heart surely. Appendicitis? No. And there’s a hole in this pocket, he thought. Can I be bothered to find a needle and thread?
When he got home and climbed the uncarpeted stairs, he glanced at the mail on the kitchen table before making his cup of tea. He read the letter from the N S & I quickly. And then he read it again, this time holding the table for support.
Dear Mr Talbot-Wynstanley,
If you are the owner of Premium Bond number PD3546885544, we have some very good news for you! Please call this number and have some identification ready when you do. This may be a driving licence, passport,…”
He found he had sat down hard on a kitchen chair without noticing. His heart was thumping and his breath was coming fast. Calm yourself, he thought. Take deep breaths. They’ll probably tell you’ve got the right to buy some more bonds at half price. Or that you’ve been entered in a new draw free of charge. Or that you’ve won £25. Well, that would be handy to say the least. Twenty five pounds? I wouldn’t mind that. But surely….. He dialled the number.
Ten minutes later he stood up, went to the window, and pushed it open with trembling hands, breathing in the fresh cold air like an alcoholic swigging an unexpectedly discovered bottle of gin. Then his hallooing cry filled the air. A couple of pigeons, who had been quietly minding their own business billing and cooing together on the window sill, shot off indignantly into the afternoon sky with a clatter of wings and a riffle of feathers.
“YE-EE-SSSS!!!!! A million pounds!!! Yes! Yes! And thrice, yes!”
Like the Lord Jesus, he was born again.
I retired to the Cotswolds ten years ago after selling the retail business in North Wales which I had built up over forty long years. Fortunately for my sanity most of my time was spent creating advertising copy and promotions, which dramatically increased the business and taught me the power of words. Being a member of the Chippy Writers’ Group encouraged me to attempt a lifelong ambition to write a novel. Recently published, In the Shadow of Hitler is a romance set in the ruins of bombed-out Hamburg in 1946.... more